Friday, July 06, 2007

There are many reasons why a proper understanding, appreciation and articulation of doctrines such as the Trinity are essential to true and spiritual Christianity. And there are many reasons why inattentiveness to such teaching and proclamation in our churches is literally rotting western evangelicalism away. No evangelical church denies this doctrine or any other equally essential doctrine, formally. Such a rejection of the truth of God would be the primary and most heinous act of blasphemy a local church could commit. The second most heinous act of blasphemy is what most evangelical churches are either flirting with or are completely guilty of committing. Instead of denying the essential and clearest doctrines revealed in Scripture…they ignore them.

I for one see an obvious connection between when evangelicalism set the pace in western society and the type of clear, fundamental, spiritual and theologically precise preaching and teaching that occurred simultaneously to our greatest influence within society…maybe I’m crazy. All one needs to do is look back and flip through the mountains of sermons and sermon notes used by familiar and unfamiliar preachers alike, up to about 30 years ago to see it! Words like “Trinity”, “Advent (in reference to either the first or second), “Reprobation”, “Atonement”, “Glory” and “Hell” were bounced around…comfortably…even in the kids Sunday School for crying out loud! Most of these churches were not only packed…they held tremendous influence in their communities!

Ok…let’s stop before somebody blows a gasket or has an aneurism. I do ‘get’ the need for the local church to be a missional witness in their community. I will go so far as to say…and go on record saying…a local church who refuses to missionally engage their community is a church out of order and may even have had it’s “lamp stand” removed. I’m serious. And a discerning person can sense it. But beyond that…clearly a church that says to its community “you adapt to our culture, learn our lingo and adopt our preferences… or else you can go to hell…” is not a church wherein the Spirit is in control. For we read the great Apostles clear instruction to “be all things to all men” in his letter to the ancient local church in Corinth. Preaching the Word yet ignoring that clearly missional instruction is sinful…to say the least.

The problem, as I humbly see it…is this “either/or” mentality that has totally engrossed the evangelical west. Either a local church “preaches the Word” in a straightforward and uncompromising manner or it preaches a sensitive, watered down message…with a missional thrust to engage its community. Local churches known for relevance and a missional thrust are basically synonymous with weak preaching and teaching. A church that “stands firm” on the Word of God and boldly preaches that Word is basically synonymous with the various expressions of mid 1970’s evangelicalism. Admit it…that is what we think isn’t it?

The truth is…we think it…because it is basically true. That may upset you…but I truly believe it is true. I do think the fundamental churches who uncompromisingly preach the fundamentals have dug their heals in the ground of 1973 and have said “we will go no further…” And it is pervasive…they conduct business like it’s 1973…the musical style they choose screams 1973…their dress screams 1973…their technology screams 1973…their evangelistic methodology screams 1973…their alter calls scream 1973…their Sunday schools scream 1973…their lingo screams 1973…BUT…their message screams A.D. 100…which is almost the only redeeming quality about them. They do preach the ancient gospel, praise God…but they ignore the Apostles instruction to “be all things to all men”…and it is a REAL problem…it’s killing our witness. We are commanded by the Lord Himself to be “salt and light”…such churches hide their light under the bushel of irrelevance.

But my dear friends and loved ones…I equally believe my observation of the contemporary evangelical world is also true. There has been a wholesale abandonment of “the message” in many of our churches. Stuffed away in packages handed to new members at the end of their 101 membership classes ("we don’t have time to go over all this right now"…"read it on your own time" type of stuff) are the doctrinal confessions and creeds these local churches 'officially' maintain. While never formally denied…these treasures of our faith…these foundational doctrines…are for the most part ignored in our pulpits and replaced with self help talks lightly salted with random verses plucked (in or out of context) and tossed in after the main points of the “talk” are established during preparation. I know many guys…many guys…who map out an entire series of “sermons” or “talks” FIRST and then dig to find verses to support their points. This is killing the effectiveness and power of our witness. How a man prepares a sermon is ultimately between himself and God…but I know such an approach would scare me to death. Then again…not only did I not graduate from seminary…I never graduated high school…unless a GED counts for something.

The problem in fundamental churches in the evangelical world is a wicked cocktail of stubbornness and closed mindedness all stemming from fear. Fear of change…fear of being overwhelmed…fear of feeling incompetent or silly…

The problem in contemporary churches in the evangelical world is a wicked cocktail of hyper-Arminianism, good intentions…and fear. Fear of offending the lost…fear of being labeled “intolerant”…fear of losing their crowd…

What both extremes need to understand…is that the proof is in the pudding…we’re losing ground…neither extreme is changing the tide…fear is rotting the evangelical west…it just manifests itself in very polarizing ways.

Revival will come, I believe, when churches pull from the strengths of both extremes…which is what I believe they did in Acts…strong, passionate and offensive preaching done in the context of relevance. I really don’t think Paul walked around in funny hats or used obscure language in his missional, church planting, journeys. And I know for a fact that Paul preached a pure, bold, straightforward and offensive message…no self help mushiness for my hero! Call me crazy.

At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders. The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the good news. Acts 14:1-7 niv

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. 1 Corinthians 1:20-25 niv


ronraack said...

I am so much a product of that era. I too looked at what the chuch was during those times, and what it has/is becoming. I see the mega-churches preaching the social Jesus. You know, come to Christ so we can all get along. If we all could just believe in Jesus, then we would not have all of these problems. The world takes a step to the left or the right, and the church takes the same step trying to be an arms length away from the world. As believers, we are called out of the world. This is not our home. We are passing through here for a short amount of time so that God may use us to spread His message to others. When we are gone, after the trump of God is blasted, satan will have complete reign of the earth. Why? Becase the Spirit of God will have been removed. So, maybe we need to rethink this moving one step at a time and staying at arms length from the world. Paul said he was all things to all people. I think looking at that in context,
1) Paul was a highly educated person. He studied under Gamaliel. He however did not embellish his manner of speach. He preached the simple gospel of Christ, and Him crucified as you duly noted. However, going one step beyond that, Paul also came into contact with political leaders. I would imagine that he used speech/language that would reach them as well. Paul said he knew how to "be abased, and how to abound" and was content in all things. I think to the poor, Paul became as poor, and to those who were wealthy, Paul knew how to relate. I do not believe for one minute that during his entire life as a missionary Paul ever compromised the gospel for the sake of "getting a crowd". We know that broad is the way to destruction, and many will go that way. It is actually quite simple when we look at Jesus' death. Why was He killed. Quite simply because Light had come into the world and revealed to us our deeds that are wicked and evil. We loved the darkness more than the light, and therefore tried to extinguish the light. I still say if it walks, swims, flys, and quacks like a duck, then the chances are it is a duck. If it looks, sounds, and acts like the world, it is probably of the world. I know how this must sound, and I struggle with it myself. Trust me, there is not a day that goes by when I do not put some thought into what this means and how I am to apply it to my life. I could go on and on. But, I think that the point that really needs to be made here is
1). people are dying and going to hell and will be separated from God forever
2). we as believers have the awesome message of God's gift of love and forgiveness
3). If we do not spread that message......
WHO WILL??????

irreverend fox said...

thanks ron...I for one want to be closer to the world than just arms length...I want to be like Jesus and be right there in their very midst...eating with them...befriending them...respecting them...loving them AND teaching them.

it seems like so many fundamentalists simply want to jump straight to teaching and preaching and have little time for the eating, befriending and respecting the lost.

oh...I don't agree with your end times scenario my friend...I do not believe the Spirit of God will ever be removed from the earth...I certainly do NOT believe Satan has ever or will EVER reign on the earth...let alone enjoy "complete" reign...but i really don't want to get into that's WAY off topic.

ronraack said...

Perhaps we need to define terms. Let me say this, I will not "do" or "act" the way the world does. I think that is where the issue is. We are in the world, but not of the world. If you notice, that while Jesus was in the world, he did not act out or do the things the world did. He was not here for show. As for being a fundamentalist, I do not think that you know me well enough to make that assumption. I actually am extremely loose in my theology. I know that I am only accountable for what God tells me to do. Until just recently, my hair was extremely long, I had an earring, and it would take an act of congress to get me onto a tie. I still do not "dress up". However, if because of my appearance, one brother stumbles in the Lord, who is going to be held accountable? The stronger or the weaker. All things are permissible, but not all things are profitable. I will not destroy the Gospel of my King over appearance or anything else for that matter. How can I Help but not befriend the lost, if not by God's amazing grace....

irreverend fox said...

ron...did not mean to give you the impression that I referred to you as a fundamentalist...I don't know you at all.

I do think it is ok to act like the world...because not everything the world does is sinful. I enjoy sports like the world, the outdoors like the games (Madden!) like the world...I love the food of the world...and I enjoy the company of the world.

the key is to avoid the sins of the world...but not to avoid the world itself. like a fish that lives its entire life in seawater...yet never is saturated with salt.

we must be IN the world...and the evangelical church of the west has run from the world...out of silly fear of becoming part OF it...that is not the call of the Kingdom.

"Go ye INto all the world..."

Isaac said...

Hey Gary!

It's Zac, Naomi's underling at Symphony Financial. I must say that I agree with both of these last posts, especially with reference to the Most Holy Trinity. Clark Carlton (author of that little book I gave you) has written about his spiritual journey from Protestant Evangelicalism to Orthodoxy in an article entitled, "From First Baptist to the First Century." In it, he relates something that I also found to be tragically true: if one removed all the references to the Holy Trinity, or the co-equality of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit from most evangelical hymnals, most people wouldn't even notice.

And sadly, many wouldn't care. I really liked your entry where you brought attention to the fact that "Christian" artists like Philips, Craig, and Dean believed in heretical modalist teachings. In my "charismatic" phase, I played saxophone in a praise band for a very large TBN-type mega-church in WV. I remember when the music leader approached me about officially becoming a church member, and I asked him if they had anything in writing about what they taught with regard to the Trinity, Christ, salvation, etc. He said they didn't but that, "oh yeah, we believe all that stuff."

"Stuff?" Even then, in my own myopic and self-centered spirituality, something in that rang with such a hollowness that I couldn't bring myself to go back there ever again.

I think that my understanding of the Holy Trinity has changed over the years. Sadly, in much of western theology the doctrine is simply a solution to a theological problem presented by the Scriptures. This is not what we see when the first Christians gathered from all over the world in Nicea, A.D. 325, to defend this teaching from the wicked and mindless Arius.

There in Nicea came many who had lived and suffered through the empire-wide persecutions of Diocletian just a little more than a decade earlier... people who had watched their spouses, friends, and children tortured and mutilated because they had refused to deny the Lord Jesus and the salvation the He alone gives. Many were themselves blind or crippled from their pagan torturers. Needless to say, these were not people who were known for compromising. There they gathered and drafted a succinct, scriptural confession of the One God who had been revealed to them as Three Persons, which was the same revelation brought to their communities by the Holy Apostles just three centuries earlier.

For many there, this was not simply the articulation of the venerable apostolic preaching, but the attempt to express in created human language their own direct experience of the Uncreated and Life-Giving Triune Godhead. One of them, Spyridon, was a simple illiterate shepherd who spent his life in unceasing prayer, fasting, and self-denial. When someone at the council asked him to explain how God could be both three and one-- he grabbed a clay brick and said, "It's like this..." and as he spoke, fire came up out of the brick, and water dripped out below, and in his hand was simply clay. Then, just as quickly, it appeared again as a simple brick.

I only bring this up because the reality of the Trinity escapes our human capacity to describe it in words or thoughts, and even the earliest Christians deeply understood this truth. And despite the fact that it is a Mystery (nay, THE Mystery), it is the sine qua non of real, apostolic Christianity... it was the first doctrine that the worldwide Christian community defended upon emerging from the catacombs.

irreverend fox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
irreverend fox said...

Hey Zach! Thanks for the feedback! I really appreciate it! First…allow me to express my utter shock from learning of your experience in a charismatic church…they have such a rich history of love for and serious study of the doctrines of the faith! Ok…yes, I am being sarcastic and yes I know…that wasn’t nice. But the fact of the matter, while sincere in many ways, very few charismatic churches are known for deep thinking…in fact…deep thinking would be the end of much of their hoopla and strange practices frankly…and their understanding of tongues is NOT to what I refer.

As you know…I am very convinced, today, of the reformed view of authority…while Scripture is not the only authority in the life of the believer, I am persuaded that it is the only infallible and inerrant one…that it is the final authority. Many times it is said that reformed believers proclaim the Scriptures to be the ONLY authority (using the word “sola” could easily create such a misunderstanding I confess) in the life of the Church…not so…not so at all. We believe ecclesiastical authority, Church tradition and personal experience all have voices to be heard and appreciated…and when appropriate…submitted unto. I say that…to say this…while the account of Spyridon you mention is interesting…I do not trust in its authenticity as do you. And the reason I clarify that point is to point out…from my perspective…and from the reformed perspective (if I may be so bold)…it would not be wise to employ such tales as a means of confirming the doctrine of the Holy Trinity…I/we would believe the Scriptures are clear and speak clearly for themselves.

I hope you do not feel as if I am nit-picking or attempting to provoke a debate or hard feelings…I hope my clarification does not appear arrogant…I would not mention this elucidation were it not for my (better, thanks!) understanding of the eastern orthodox viewpoint regarding the authority of the Church and how the Church arrives at proper theology.

Finally…over all we are certainly in agreement regarding the revealed nature of the God who is…He is mysterious and is infinitely beyond the combined capacities of all thinking creatures…in all time and in all places. I’m not sure if you literally meant that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is actually THE sine qua non of our faith...that it is the ONLY sine qua non of the faith of if I read too much into the word “the”. In my view it is certainly A sine qua non…or maybe more precisely…part of THE sine qua non of the faith. I do not believe you can flatly deny the Holy Trinity and be “Christian”. Such a person is something…but is not Christian. The remaining portion (and the portion that I fear separates us today my friend) of the sine qua non was articulated, prior to “the catacombs” by Saint Peter during the great council of Jerusalem…that a mans heart is purified by his faith (proper faith, accurate faith, true faith) and only via the grace of God…apart from the “yoke” of human merit. We can read that account of course in Acts 15.

I have mentioned “the message” repeatedly lately…I think I will begin to write about the gospel…its nature how Scripture defines for us its content…thanks Zach! Always feel free to comment on this blog…your voice is more than welcome…we believe in education…not indoctrination around here! We encourage “other” or “various” viewpoints to be expressed here! You only help, Zach. Provoking thought and reevaluation is very, very healthy we believe…so never hesitate, ok? Our aim is of course conversion…to the truth of God…to God Himself. We do not believe you are above or beyond it…and we absolutely do not believe that we are above or beyond it (God knows) ourselves. Truth is King and can stand up to all fair scrutiny.

ronraack said...

After re-reading (for like the 5th time), I noticed that you said Jesus commanded us to be salt and light. The fact of the matter is, that was in a statement form. He was informing us of what we are, not what we should be. thanks

Isaac (Zac) said...

Wow Gary!

Thank you very much for your well-written reply! I appreciate your welcome to comment on your blog... I admit having reservations about commenting because certainly I recognize that we are speaking from different viewpoints, despite the fact that we are both speaking from an attempt to be faithful to the Message of Salvation. Not to mention the fact that in my brief meeting with you, and in my continuing employment relationship with your wife, I realize that I have found truly amazing people that I already deeply admire and respect... I would certainly never wish to offend a person whose friendship I definitely wish to pursue.

I realize now that as a result of my previous rambling post and your masterful response, that now I must respond under several different sub-headings, in an effort to post something that is organized and understandable, as yours was.

Regarding Charismatics:

Yes, there in the midst of the charismatic movement I must confess that I found an absurd sort of doctrinal minimalism regarding things like the Holy Trinity, salvation by Grace through faith, holiness, "fruit" (rather than "gifts") of the Spirit, etc. And yet at the same time was a rigorous intolerance toward those Christians who did not believe that "tongues" was the "initial evidence" of being filled with the Spirit, or that God's will for our lives is that we end up multi-millionaires.

Regarding Sola Scriptura (or as it is sometimes referred to by American Orthodoxy-- "O Solo Meo!"):

I can only speak from my own evangelical experience-- I began to realize that if all I had was the Bible and what I believed/felt it meant, then really all I had was my subjective belief/feelings. As a consequence, I went to churches where the preachers agreed with me (read: "spiritually fed me").

Perhaps it is different in the Emerging Movement of which you are a part... I cannot speak to that, but it is encouraging to read from you that you allow the witness of historical Christian sources to inform your Scriptural hermeneutic.

For the Orthodox it is different than in either Protestantism or RCism, I must say. In my uber-zealous new Orthodox convert days, I could be a real jerk when people tried to debate with me about what the Holy Scriptures did or did not say.

However, in the interests of continuing this pleasant conversation with you (from which I am learning much, and which I certainly wish to keep as far away from "arguing" as possible, because I totally know you would destroy me!) I will tell you what I told these Protestant friends of mine: "Get your own book!" Hahaha! =^)

This is an offensive and unnecessarily polemic thing to say but I will explain to you why I said it, because at its core it reflected something which I had come to truly and honestly believe about the Holy Bible.

Here is what I "meant" despite the fact that I was being a jerk to my friends: The Canon of Holy Scriptures is a product of the Church, and not the other way around. This can be proven historically, since it is common knowledge that the earliest Christian communities had only a few of the apostolic writings... then there were also fraudulent writings from competing groups that had completely misunderstood Christ's Gospel-- the Gnostics, the Nicolaitans, the Ebionites (Judaizers), etc. These too had their "ancient" writings, circulating them around and crediting them to apostles.

But, glory to Him who did not leave the Church in the dark... Orthodox Bishops assembled in a local council (in Carthage, A.D. 397) and compiled an authoritative New Testament canon, only including in the Holy Bible those writings which were possessed by the most ancient Christian communities: Jerusalem, Ephesus, Rome, Corinth, Antioch, Alexandria, Thessalonia, and others. Ones which seemed ancient but did not conform to the Church's own living memory of Christ and His teachings were rejected.

My point: I began to be convinced that if I accepted the New Testament canon, I was already in some way accepting the authority of this ancient Christian Church (and the Tradition to which it thought itself accountable) which decided this canon.

And then another point: Even if I accept the apostolic authorship of the Gospels themselves, I am accepting the authority and tradition of this same Church-- since only one of the Gospels indicates its authorship (St. John's), and only a couple of Paul's letters. So my reasoning along this line went something like this-- I cannot even show from "sola scriptura" that the Gospel I'm quoting as "Matthew" or "Luke" or "Mark" was really written by that person... rather, I must rely upon the Church's Tradition... which even informs me about what is and is not Scripture.

This is enough for me. My faith in the Holy Spirit's preservation of the Church and the Bible also leads me to acknowledge the ones through whom He acted-- the Orthodox.

Regarding Spyridon and Crazy Bricks:

I totally understand your skepticism about this miracle of St. Spyridon at the council of Nicea. Lots of things like this happen, even in the New Testament, but certainly they sound strange. My point in bringing this story to your attention is that it highlights the fact that the Mystery of the Holy Trinity was, for the earliest Christians, not a matter of an intellectual puzzle from the Scriptures ("How can the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all be God, all be distinct, and yet there is only one true God"). Rather, the reality of the One God in Three Persons was something that they had experienced-- it was more than words to them. This is the faith and piety of Orthodoxy.

And yes, Orthodoxy is the Church of miracles. I won't get into St. Spyridon's posthumous visits to the Greek Island of Tremithus, his heavenly protection of this place, and the miracles worked by his relics there. (This would have been too much for me as a Protestant to handle, and I certainly understand that any discussion about the veracity of any such miracles is doomed to be a failed one. For now let me just say that I understand your skepticism, and respect it, despite the fact that I myself have been in the presence of various signs such as these, and I fully believe them.)

Regarding sine qua nons and the message of salvation:

You're absolutely right-- in my effort at profundity I misspoke, of course! There are probably a large share of "trinitarians" in the depths of Hades, and certainly the Holy Trinity is one of those things which must be believed to be saved, it is not the only thing.

Just a few quick thoughts on the biblical teaching of salvation. First I think I should clarify that Orthodox do not believe anything similar to the official Roman Catholic teaching on "merits" and "merits of the saints" and all of this non-sense.

To paraphrase the Apostle Peter's speech to the apostolic council in Jerusalem, we are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Have you read anything in Clark Carlton's little booklet yet? I haven't read it for awhile and I can't remember how "in-depth" it goes, but I'm certain that what you won't find in there is any nonsense about meriting salvation.

But I will go further with you, because I'm interested in your own understanding of salvation in Christ, which we know is "by grace, through faith."

1) What is grace? I think that the standard answer to this question in western Christianity is that basically it is something like God's unmerited favor. But Orthodox would say that this definition better fits the word translated as "mercy" and not grace. For the Orthodox, Grace means the Uncreated Energy of God... God Himself, acting upon us in order to regenerate us and conform us to the image of His Son.

2) What is faith? "Pistis" in Greek is certainly not simply mental assent to a doctrine. Orthodox believe that faith encompasses within itself the entire life in Christ-- obedience, repentance, acquiring the fruit of the Spirit, etc.

Ok then! I will stop there and actually let you speak! I apologize for the inadequacy of my own words. I would love to hear your thoughts about Clark Carlton's books and my own thoughts here.

And again, thank you for welcoming me to your blog. I want you to know that in Orthodoxy, while we evaluate and test doctrines, we avoid the temptation to judge another's salvation by his words which we may or may not understand correctly, leaving this to the determination of Him Who alone judges justly, and knows the hearts of all men.

Glory to Him!

irreverend fox said...


there is nothing wrong with encouraging people to be salt and live out what they are.

I really don't have time or patience for carping, my's not helpful...and it is distracting.

irreverend fox said...

lol...while Zach was kindly responding to me I was laying the smack down on ron...sorta...

anyway...thanks is midnight and I recorded the World Hot Dog Eating Contest, it was repeated on ESPN last night at about 2 am or something...and I new I need to record it…it was a classic contest from what I’m hearing…my brain hurts from preaching today...and I just want to watch grown men slam about 80 hot dogs down their about miracles...


I'll respond tomorrow...